THE revelation by Harare mayor Councillor Bernard Manyenyeni that the majority of councillors responsible for running the capital city are functionally illiterate, certainly explains why the city is in its current deplorable state. Uncollected refuse, unlit streets, erratic or non-existent water supplies, bushes along road verges and potholes are the order of the day for residents who are unfailingly presented with high bills at the beginning of each month.
From media reports, it is clear that the situation is the same in all local authorities across the country as the majority of cities and towns are bedevilled by similar problems centred around failure to deliver key services. How can we expect all these problems to be solved by people who may not be able to decipher a spread sheet or project proposal?
As Clr Manyenyeni rightly puts it across, it is practically impossible for non-specialists to supervise technocrats. It is therefore no surprise that there has been so much corruption and scandal in the halls of the town houses under the councillors’ noses. For Harare in particular, one is baffled as to how beleaguered town clerk Tendai Mahachi’s employment documents including his contract of employment cannot be found.
In the same manner the city fathers failed to prove that their employee may have remained in office despite reaching retirement age. This says more about the administration than the employee even taking into account the latter’s office. There are also other major scandals involving millions of dollars, which seem to have fallen into black holes.
Results of audits ordered by the city seem to have also found their way into the same space. But now we wonder if the councillors would understand such reports anyway or would need to hire consultants to decipher the contents therein. Most of the local authorities’ operations involve technical aspects.
For example water reticulation and zoning are engineering matters. If the councillors have no inkling of what is involved, who is to stop the engineers and a few cohorts from self-enrichment at the expense of the residents? This functional illiteracy compromises any good governance that may be intended.
If there is no comprehension of the matters there can be no informed synthesis of the information contained, which then suggests that decisions taken by the council may be rather ill-advised and of a half-baked nature. A case in point would be that of the out of town vending sites, which are lying idle as even the few people who valiantly tried to take them up have realised the futility of attempting to operate there.
While the push to get the illegal vendors out of the CBD was long overdue, we doubt that the offered solution was the result of any in-depth analysis of business and its market forces. More informed councillors would have realised the importance of market surveys to establish the pulling factors for vendors and buyers.
We believe that if the vending sites had been developed with room for butcheries and other goods like fresh produce residents would actually go there to buy those things then rifle through the second hand piles and pick one or two items that may have attracted their fancy. Political parties and the electorate need to realise the wide chasm between basic literacy and functional literacy and select representatives accordingly.
We are not dismissing the importance of the voice of the ordinary person. But local authorities need to be run by men and women with the ability to speak the requisite language. They need men and women who understand issues like climate and environment. People who can read a population graph and figure out what census results of a survey to be taken in 50 or even a 100 years will most probably look like.
People who can understand the physics of why laying a smattering of concrete over a pothole is not road maintenance. The list goes on. While the appointment of ex-officio technocratic councillors as suggested by Clr Manyenyeni may be one way of balancing the equation, we believe that the ultimate responsibility lies with the electorate to identify and vote for the individuals who are best equipped to tackle the challenges facing their particular neighbourhoods. This will ultimately benefit the rest of the area.